How to Register for the CDA Test

Instructor: Chelsey Wilt
Read on for details about the registration process for the CDA test, including an overview of eligibility, the associated fees, and the steps to register for a test with Pearson VUE and an observation with a PD Specialist.

Summary of Registration Steps

Registration for the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential is a multistep process. This article will elaborate on the following list of steps:

  • Reach education and experience eligibility requirements
  • Purchase a CDA Competency Standards book
  • Compile a Professional Portfolio
  • Submit a completed CDA application with full payment
  • Arrange the CDA Verification Visit with a PD Specialist
  • Schedule the CDA Exam at a Pearson VUE test center


Before applying for the CDA, candidates must meet a set of education and work experience requirements. The minimum level of education needed is a high school diploma or junior/senior enrollment in a relevant high school career program. Candidates must also have 120 hours of formal education in early childhood development and education that covers the competency areas for the CDA.

Candidates are required to attain a total of 480 hours of paid or volunteer experience working with children. They must also compile a professional portfolio.

CDA Competency Standards

All candidates must establish mastery of the overall CDA competency standards, which encompass 13 functional areas that are part of a childcare professional's daily work: Safe, Healthy, Learning Environment, Physical, Cognitive, Communication, Creative, Self, Social, Guidance, Families, Program Management, and Professionalism.

Since not all childcare settings are the same, however, there are four specialized CDA tests for candidates to choose from, each aligned with a specific type of childcare and education. Some early childhood educators work in state-run childcare centers while others work directly in family homes, so there are some differences regarding government regulations, the ages of children, and the number of children. There are four categories:

  • Center-Based Infant-Toddler: The candidate works in a childcare center with at least three children under age 3.
  • Center-Based Preschool: The candidate works in a preschool with at least ten children ages 3-5.
  • Family Child Care: The candidate works in a family home care center with at least two children ages 5 or under.
  • Home Visitor: The candidate periodically supports families with children ages 5 or under.

Candidates are required to purchase a CDA Competency Standards book that matches the work setting and age of their specialty. This book covers the 13 CDA functional areas and information specific to the CDA specialty. It also includes forms necessary for the application and outlines exactly how to design the portfolio according to CDA specialty.


The portfolio is a required component in the application process. The required documents include proof of the candidate's education, training, and work experience, including 120 hours of CDA training and 480 hours of work experience relevant to the candidate's CDA specialty.

Another important component of the portfolio is family questionnaires. These are to be completed by the families of children with whom the candidate works. They provide evaluations about a candidate's qualities. The portfolio also contains personal statements, including the candidate's professional philosophy in childcare and a self-reflection of their competence.

CDA Verification Visit

Before submitting an application, candidates must find a Professional Development (PD) Specialist to conduct their CDA Verification Visit. This visit allows the PD specialist to examine a candidate's portfolio, watch them engage with their students, and discuss their strengths and weaknesses.

The Council for Professional Recognition provides an online directory of PD Specialists. Candidates can input basic information into the database to get a list of nearby specialists. The candidate should then send a request to the PD Specialist to conduct their CDA Verification Visit. Once they have agreed, they must provide the candidate with their PD Specialist ID number, which is a required field on the CDA application.

Application and Fees

In order to apply for the CDA, candidates must create an account with the Council for Professional Recognition. This will allow them to access the application. On the application, candidates must include their email address, their center director's email address, and their PD Specialist's ID number.

Payment for the CDA test is made at the time of application. Candidates can apply and pay by credit card or electronic check, or they can send a paper application by mail. Check out the breakdown of registration fees:

Credential Paper Application Online Application Online Discount
Initial CDA Credential $500 $425 $75
Renewal CDA Credential $150 $125 $25

The Council for Professional Recognition accepts personal checks, money orders, and vouchers. With these forms of payment, candidates also need to include a YourCDA cover letter.

After the application is reviewed and qualified by the Council, candidates receive a Ready to Schedule Notice. This will include a Candidate ID number, which is necessary for scheduling a CDA Verification Visit and a CDA exam time.

Schedule with Pearson VUE and PD Specialist

Once candidates have received approval to sit for the exam, they can schedule a testing time with Pearson VUE, either by phone or online. Candidates can call and schedule the exam Monday through Friday between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Central Standard Time (CST). The phone number is 1-866-507-5627. Alternatively, candidates can schedule the test online by creating a Pearson VUE account. Candidates can locate a testing center, date, and time that is convenient; however, the testing placements are arranged on a first-come, first-serve basis. They should also contact their selected PD Specialist to schedule a time to complete the CDA Verification Visit. There is no particular order in which the exam and Verification Visit need to be completed, but results from both must be submitted before the CDA credential can be awarded.

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